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Obama Aide: Clinton Is 'Prohibitive Favorite' in Nevada

The Nevada caucuses are still three days away, but the battle over what the eventual results will mean began in earnest this afternoon when The Fix received a phone call from David Plouffe, campaign manager for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).

Plouffe was calling to set the record straight about the expectations game currently playing itself out in Nevada that seems to suggest that the Silver State is Obama's to lose following his endorsement last week by Local 226 of the Culinary Workers Union.

"I am concerned about an effort by the Clinton campaign that because we got the endorsement of Culinary that we should win," said Plouffe. "The Culinary workers endorsement is very very helpful, but it is not going to be determinative."

In fact, Plouffe argued, it is Hillary Rodham Clinton who should be considered the "prohibitive favorite" in Nevada due to her strong support within the state party establishment and her large lead in early polling.

"The Clinton campaign repeatedly pointed to Nevada as the strongest of the first four states for them," said Plouffe. "The fact that it is a close and competitive contest is encouraging for us." (The old "we're just happy to be here" line.)

Plouffe has a point -- to a point. Clinton does carry significant support among Nevada party regulars, including Rory Reid, a Clark County Commission who also happens to be the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).

And a look back at polling conducted in Nevada -- of which there has been relatively little -- shows that as recently as mid-November Clinton led Obama 45 percent to 20 percent.

But as the race across the country has more engaged, polling has shown the contest in Nevada tightening. While Clinton's establishment support is impressive, so too are the 60,000 footsoldiers that Culinary's endorsement means for Obama's campaign.

The truth of the matter is if either Clinton or Obama wins Nevada by a small margin, it's not likely to fundamentally alter the dynamics of this race. After the two front-runners split Iowa and New Hampshire, individual states voting between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5 started to recede in importance.

Yes, both Obama and Clinton want to win Nevada and South Carolina in hopes of building some momentum heading into that titanic day in early February when 22 states hold primaries and caucuses, including delegate treasure troves like California, New York, Illinois and Georgia. But both sides also acknowledge that wins (or losses) in either state won't be determinative in terms of picking the nominee.

"This is a race for delegates," said Howard Wolfson, communications director for Clinton. "It is not a battle for individual states. As David knows, we are well past the time when any state will have a disproportionate influence on the nominating process."

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 16, 2008; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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